Words of the Week – A Writing Exercise

One of the things I do in my 7th grade literature class is post a word of the day.  I really didn’t do anything with this word other than define it and share a sentence with the word.  That left me feeling that the students didn’t really get enough exposure to the word, so I decided that they had to write a paragraph using each word of the day at the end of the week.

The kids had a blast writing their paragraphs.  They all came up with bizarre and entertaining stories, so I decided to join them and write a couple of these stories of my own.  I have three literature classes, so I modeled the behavior I desired and wrote three little stories.  One was pretty brutal, so I’ll post the other two right here.

The first time through, I went with a completely ridiculous situation, which is always a hit with the middle school students. Remember, this is just a work of fiction. I don’t do anything mean to cats in real life. Here are the words of the week and the first paragraph.

Famish – Memento – Uncanny – *Zip – Enigmatic

Mr. Cuddlepants stole my memento!

Mr. Cuddlepants stole my memento!

For my birthday, my brother took me out to eat at Burger King.  I was famished, so I ate three king sized whopper value meals, but I saved one french fry as a memento of the fabulous birthday meal.  That single french fry was sitting on the mantle above my fireplace.

One day, my wife asked me why I had the fry on the mantle, and I shouted at her, “Don’t question why I have that there.  You were going to eat it.  Weren’t you!”

“No, but the cat just gave me an enigmatic look, like it wanted to eat it,” she replied.

“Mr. Cuddlepants!” I shouted.  “Get down from the mantle!”

With uncanny quickness, the cat snatched the french fry with its mouth as it leapt down from the mantle.  I was furious.  How dare Mr. Cuddlepants eat my birthday memento.  Later that evening, I caught the cat as it was napping.  I zipped him up in his kitty straightjacket and threw him in a cage for the rest of the night.  That will teach ’em.

Yeah, I know that was a little bit harsh at the end, but Mr. Cuddlepants better recognize.  You don’t get between a man and his french fries.  Well, that and I needed to fit the word zip in there somewhere.

The third time through, I went with a more serious approach. Here are the words again.  One word is different because on Thursdays we have Dictionary Roulette.  This is where I open the dictionary to a random page and have a student point in the dictionary.  Wherever they land, that is the word of the day for the class.

Famish – Memento – Uncanny – *Maroon – Enigmatic

I watch too much Survivorman.

I watch too much Survivorman.

Fourteen weeks ago, the brutal winds and massive storm surges slammed my boat onto a rocky shoreline crushing the boat’s hull.  I am marooned.  To some, a small tropical island covered with palm trees looks like paradise, but in reality, its  nothing more than a prison cell.  My body is famished, for all I can find to eat are rotting coconuts and washed up sea snails.   All that I have left to remind me of my previous life is a small memento, a silver wedding band on my left ring finger.  I have to get back to the mainland.  Could my uncanny ability to survive in the harshest conditions pay off?  I flash an enigmatic smile.  Only time would tell.  I push my make-shift raft into the sea, hoping the winds and currents would lead me back home.

I’m not quite sure a wedding ring is a memento, but in the ten minutes that I allow for this little writing exercise, it was the best I could do.  What do you think about this on demand writing exercise?  I found it rather fun.

Writing Tip – Rule of Five

My middle school kids don’t like to edit or revise anything they write down.  Come to think of it, I don’t like to do that too much either.  That’s a big problem when you are opening up a paper, so sometimes I force my students to follow the rule of five?

What’s the rule of five?  It’s where you write the same event five different ways, and then you pick your favorite.  I’ll carry out this exercise to show you exactly what I mean.

Yesterday, I went to a Major League Baseball game where the Milwaukee Brewers faced the Colorado Rockies.  I’ll take one play from that game, and describe it five different times.  In his second at bat of the game, Rickie Weeks hit a home run.  That’s what happened.  Don’t count that first bland description as one of my five attempts.

Rickie Weeks Crushing It!

Rickie Weeks Crushing It!

I don’t normally draw like the picture above, but I was inspired.  Rickie Weeks was impressive last night.  He hit a single, a double, and a home run.   Here’s my five tries at a descriptive event.  I decided against using any bold or italics in these descriptions because that’s not how I would write in a book.

1. As soon as Juan let go of the ball, he knew something bad was about to happen.  He didn’t turn over the grip on his slider and the baseball just hung in the air.  The ball screamed, “Hit me!  Hit me hard!” and Rickie obliged.  With a lightning fast stroke, Rickie turned that flat slider around.  The ball launched off the bat like a rocket.  It reached its final destination in the left field bleachers in a matter of seconds.

2. Standing at 5 feet 10 inches and weighing in at 215 pounds, Weeks is built more like a running back than a second basemen.  He uses his monster forearms and muscular frame with deadly efficiency, creating some of the fastest bat speed in the major leagues.  Juan Nicasio found out first hand what happens when Weeks strikes a pitch on the sweet spot of his bat.  An unmistakable CRACK echoed throughout the stadium as Weeks unloaded on a pitch from Nicasio.  The ball whistled through the air, over the left field fence, and ended it’s flight path by leaving a dent in the bleachers.

3. The ball was absolutely crushed.  Carlos Gonzalez, the left fielder for the Colorado Rockies, knew it was gone from the moment it jumped off of Rickie Weeks’ bat.  Gonzalez didn’t even turn around to see where it was going to land, because he knew it was a souvenir for a lucky fan.

4. The best feeling in all of sports.  To hit a baseball square.  Weeks saw the slider tumble toward him and uncoiled his body.  Hips turn, chest toward the ball, hands whip forward, and bat meets ball.  Like a hot knife slicing through soft butter, he felt almost nothing, but the sound left no doubt.  That baseball was going out.  As straight as a string, the ball traveled over 400 feet over the wall and into the stands.

5. The normal call from Bob Uecker, the play by-play radio announcer for the Brewers, for a home run by Rickie Weeks would sound like this. “Here’s the pitch. Rickie Weeks to left field and deep.  HEY!  Get up. Get up. Get outa here and gone for Rickie!”  On this home run, Weeks hit the ball so hard it traveled out of the stadium too fast for Uecker to even describe it.  He only managed to say, “Here’s the pitch. Rick!” and then the ball reached the seats.

That last one was a bit of a stretch, but I was running out of ideas.  Back off.  No one said following the rule would be real easy!  Enough about that stuff.  Hey, guess what?  I’m still following my blog writing rules.  Write books first and then blog!

Words written since my last post for my next book: Just over 2,ooo

What went well: The start of a previous chapter was bothering me, so I fixed it.  Take that chapter nine.

What did I struggle with:  The flow in the chapter I’m writing now isn’t as smooth.  My protagonist is taking a back seat in this chapter, and I’m afraid since this book is in first person, he’s just getting pulled through the plot.  I’ve got to make him more invested in the story.  GRRR!

Writing Tip: Remember to give each character distinct differences in dialogue (how’d you like that alliteration).  You can give them accents, different levels of vocabulary, or alter their speech pattern.  Don’t make them talk like Yoda though.  There’s only one Yoda.

What do think about the rule of five?  Did you like any of my descriptions?  Which one was your favorite?  I’m not telling you what was mine.  I’d like to hear what you have to say.  Feel free to try that out when you have something you want to describe.

– Dave